Thursday, February 03, 2005

New Classics Collection (Verb Ballet)

VERB’S the world in local ballet

At the conclusion of Verb Ballets’ ‘NEW CLASSICS COLLECTION,’ the company’s Artistic Director, Hernando Cortez, shouted to a sold-out audience, “Verb’s the word, verb’s the word.” And, how right he is. Verb is the word in Cleveland area ballet.

Ever since The Cleveland-San Jose Ballet packed up its debts and fled the city, Cleveland has lacked a premiere Cleveland-based premiere ballet company. That is not to say there are no local ballet companies. Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriquez’s Point of Departure has been fine in its presentations and has developed a loyal following. Unfortunately, their presentations are few. Gabay and Rodriquez are still members of the San Jose Ballet family and have no permanent presence in the city. The Ohio Ballet, which many felt would be the logical successor to CSJB has not filled the void. Its attendance in both its Cleveland and Akron performances has been underwhelming. Under its present administration it has failed to build a solid audience base. Ohio Dance Theatre, Denise Gula’s Oberlin based group, does a nice job for a small company with limited resources. It has made quite a positive impact on the Lorain County area and in national outreach, but hasn’t been as successful in its Cleveland ventures.

Two years ago The Repertory Project was transformed. The wand was handed to Executive Director Dr. Margaret Carlson and Artistic Director Hernando Cortez. They made their three wishes and the pumpkin has blossomed into a full-fledged shimmering coach. Now known as Verb Ballet, they have developed a new repertory, repositioned the company’s publicity, signed on a group of enthusiastic board members, and formed a permanent Cleveland based company that offers its dancers on-going employment. It is in the process of amassing its new Classics, Contemporary Artists and Emerging Artists Collections to accompany the works of its Artistic Director.

As witnessed by the appreciative audience at the company’s recent Playhouse Square debut, this is a superb dance company. Besides the fine evening of dance one must be amazed by the fact that potential attenders had to be turned away due to a SRO crowd. A sold out audience to see a Cleveland ballet company? That hasn’t happened in a long, long time.

The program consisted of three pieces: ’APPALACHIAN SPRING,’ ‘ESPLANADE’ and ‘CARMINA BURANA.’

This version of ’APPALACHIAN SPRING’ was a reworking of that presented last summer at Cain Park. There was a new set and costumes (by Suzy Campbell and Robert Katkowsky) and an altered cast. The set worked well though it did not have the severe rustic feeling of the original. The costumes at times distracted. The severity of wilderness living was diminished by the colorful material used for the women’s dresses, especially those of Followers.

Mark Tomasic gave his usual strong masculine presence to the role of the Husbandman, though I thought he added more to the production as the Revivalist in the Cain Park rendition of the piece. Glynn Owens, who danced the Revivalist is slight and youthful. Though he dances well, he failed to convey the sternness and power needed for the role. His hop moves fringed on the comic rather than the serious. Tracy Vogt was wonderful as the Bride. This is one very, very talented dancer. Elizabeth Flynn was excellent as the Pioneering Woman. The Followers danced well, but one of the performers broke the solemnity of the occasion by smiling during segments of the performance.

‘ESPLANADE,’ danced to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, was originally choreographed by Paul Taylor in 1975 and has been reconstructed by Hernando Cortez. This is a high-energy exhausting, audience pleasing piece that is divided into a series of short segments. The dancers were in a constant state of running, bouncing, writhing, leaping, rolling, twisting, and walking on and jumping over each other. The numerous combinations of line intertwining and single and duet dancing was compelling.

Carl Orff’s ‘CARMINA BURANA’ is one of the most popular 20th century choral works. It is based on a collection of medieval poems from the early 1800s. The topics range from the ever-changing fortune of humans to physical love. The illuminated pictures which accompanied the script which was found in the 1930s was the basis for many of the dance images framed by choreographer Hernando Cortez.

Joan Yellen Horvitz’s pumpkin-like designed backdrop was enhanced by Chaneault Spence’s lighting design which resulted in changed colors to fit the mood of each segment. Horvitz’s costumes were breathtaking and appropriate.

The choreography mirrored the music, and the dancers, who were well prepared by Cortez, continually changed mood to convey the textures of the music.

In its World Premiere, the piece, though overly long, was met with positive response by the audience. Cortez might consider cutting some of the segments in order to make the piece more audience friendly.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Verb Ballet has the fortune of being headed by the dynamic Margaret Carlson and the talented Hernando Cortez. They have assembled a stable of generally very capable dancers. The females, as a whole, are excellent. The males are less consistent. Mark Tomasic is one of the area’s best male dancers. Robert Wesner is a fine but often overly affected solo dancer, but has trouble pulling back and becoming part of the ensemble. Newcomer Glynn Owens appears to have the makings of a solid performer though he needs to work on his posture. Hernando’s challenge will be to flesh out the company with dancers who can help carry the company from excellent to world class.